Bucks vs. 76ers Odds & Picks: Philly Set to Struggle Without Joel Embiid Wednesday

Bucks vs. 76ers Odds & Picks: Philly Set to Struggle Without Joel Embiid Wednesday article feature image

Patrick Smith/Getty Images. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

  • What should have been a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview is dulled by the absence of Joel Embiid.
  • The Bucks are back in form since the All-Star break, while the Sixers have done relatively well so far without their star big man.
  • Brandon Anderson isn't buying it, though, and explains why he's fading Philly against Milwaukee.

Bucks vs. 76ers Odds

Bucks Odds-5.5
76ers Odds+5.5
Moneyline-235 / +185
TimeWednesday, 6 p.m. ET
Odds as of Tuesday and via PointsBet

This should have been a great matchup and a potential Eastern Conference Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, but that all changed when Joel Embiid went out injured.

We might very well see these teams meet in the playoffs still, but we won't learn much about that matchup on Wednesday night. For better and for worse, head coach Doc Rivers has built this Philly team in Embiid's image, so we are getting a totally different version of the Sixers without the All-Star big man.

We're also getting a tired Philly team. The Sixers needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Knicks on Tuesday night after losing the first three quarters, but they got 50 points from Tobias Harris and Seth Curry in the win.

Will the 76ers have anything left in the tank for Milwaukee?

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Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks sit at 25-14, a couple games behind Philadelphia, but they're No. 2 in Net Rating, according to Basketball Reference, behind only the Utah Jazz. And remember, that includes Milwaukee's strange February when it won five in a row, lost five in a row then won five more while the team was without Jrue Holiday for most of the month due to COVID-19 and struggled to adjust.

Holiday is back now, and the Bucks have won nine of 10 games and all three since the All-Star break.

Milwaukee's offense has been its strength this year. The Bucks have shot the lights out all season and still rank top five in the NBA in both 2-point and 3-point percentage. The Bucks also lead the league in defensive rebounding and continue to improve incrementally on defense, especially with Holiday back.

Holiday is playing his normal minutes now, but he has struggled mightily since returning. He's averaging only 11 points, three rebounds and three assists while shooting an ugly 39% from the field since coming back into the fold.

Khris Middleton continues to struggle some too after a hot start to the season. But have no fear: MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is here.

Antetokounmpo has cranked up his game since losing Holiday, and he hasn't slowed down since the point guard's return.

Over the past 15 games, Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.7 points, 12.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists. He's also ramped up his defense again, with 3.2 steals per game during that stretch.

Antetokounmpo's free throws are also way up, and they're falling again too. He's getting to the line almost 11 times a game during this stretch and making 76% of his shots from the charity stripe.

This is the "Greek Freak" who won MVP the last two seasons. It's the one we wanted to see match up with Embiid tonight. But without Embiid, Antetokounmpo will be by far the best player on the court, especially the way he's playing.

As is usual for a Mike Budenholzer team, the Bucks don't turn the ball over much and they rarely foul. That's an advantage in any game, but those are especially important strengths against these Sixers.

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Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia is 28-12 after escaping against the Knicks, and the Sixers have quietly won six in a row and 10 of their last 12, even as Embiid missed a few games.

Philadelphia is now 4-5 without Embiid on the season, and the Sixers have won their last three such games. The four wins have come against the Knicks, Spurs, Bulls, and Pacers — nothing special, but there are no gimmes in there either — but Philly also lost to the Pistons by 15 and Cavs by 24 without their star center.

Certainly, this team is far better with their big man on the court. Many had Embiid as the first-half MVP, and the team's entire identity and profile reflects him. The Sixers rank bottom-five in 3-point attempts and makes but top-five in 2-pointers, and they lead the league in free-throw rate.

Sound like any particular player you know? That's Embiid in a nutshell.

Philadelphia is much more of a finesse team without Embiid, and it'll have to rely on big shooting games from Tobias Harris and Seth Curry, like the two had Tuesday night. Opponents tend to get plenty of 3-pointers off against Milwaukee, but the Bucks do well to force opponents' worst players to take the shots.

The Sixers may need big shooting from players like Danny Green and Furkan Korkmaz if they are to survive this one, and they could struggle to score with two total non-shooters on the court as Tony Bradley and Dwight Howard replace Embiid.

Naturally, Philly's defense will also be worse without Embiid. The Sixers entered Tuesday ranked No. 2 in Defensive Efficiency, per Basketball Reference, and they held the Knicks under 100. Ben Simmons is an elite defender so this wasn't all Embiid, but it sure helps to have the big man out there.

Embiid has been a difficult matchup against Antetokounmpo in the past, and it's unfair to expect Bradley or Howard to have any shot against him, especially when he's playing this well. Philadelphia's defense ranks top-three in 2-point percentage allowed, but guess who's most responsible for that?

Spoiler alert: Philadelphia will miss Embiid badly in this game.

Bucks-76ers Pick

There are avenues for the Sixers to compete in this game. They need Howard and Bradley to do a great Embiid impersonation on defense. They need Simmons to keep Giannis at least remotely in check, and they need Harris, Curry and some of the role players to get hot from deep. It's possible.

But that doesn't mean it's likely.

With Embiid out, the entire calculus of this matchup changes. Just compare the rosters head-to-head. Antetokounmpo is better than Simmons. Middleton is better than Harris. Holiday is certainly far better than Curry. Milwaukee's normally vulnerable bench is matched by an equally porous and shortened bench. Philly's 2-point defense would be critical in a game against Giannis but misses its man in the middle, and its usual high turnovers forced will be muted against a Bud team, along with its typical free throw advantage.

The Bucks really ought to win a game like this comfortably. Without Embiid and with Antetokounmpo in peak MVP form, it's too hard to pick against them here. Philly shouldn't be able to keep up at either end. This line would be even higher if not for recency bias blinding us to how much worse Philly usually is without Embiid.

Pick: Bucks -5.5

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